A RENEWED call has been made for the debate on how Scotland can get "back into" Europe after independence to include options other than joining the EU.

The Scottish Sovereignty Research Group (SSRG) has published a new paper which outlines why it believes Scotland should seek membership of the European Free Trade Association (Efta) once it leaves the UK.

It argues this would be a gateway to regaining access to the European single market and that in the longer term, Scotland could still apply to join the EU if the move was backed in a referendum.

Geoff Bush, co-founder of SSRG, said he had set up a new group Yes For Efta and planned to hold online seminars and presentations around the new Scotland In Europe paper to “help inform people of the options”.

He said he was a big fan of the EU but wanted to open up the debate so that the alternatives are “properly looked at”.

READ MORE: New Scottish independence paper outlines benefits of rejoining EU

Bush argued joining Efta could take just two to three months following independence, which would give access to free trade with fellow Efta members and also to existing free-trade agreements between Efta and a "large number" of non-EU nations and trade blocs, including the UK.

He said it was more difficult to assess how long it would take to get access to the single market through joining the European Economic Area (EEA), but suggested this could take around two to three years.

He said: “The phrase 'Scotland in Europe' is great, but it needs to be qualified that it is not just related to the EU.

“Economically, we can be in the single market in, say, two to three years. It will take seven years at the most optimistic for Scotland to join the EU.

“So you are losing four years’ worth of rectifying the damage that Brexit has caused to the economy if you go with the EU from the start.”

He added: “In the paper, I have used the same list of benefits of joining the EU that the Scottish Government used in their recent publication [An Independent Scotland In The EU].

“The vast majority of them are actually achievable by joining Efta and thereby the EEA after a couple of years.

“This discussion needs to take place it is far too important just to be lazy and say we are happy about joining the EU.”

He added: “I think the key thing is actually joining Efta and joining the internal market gives you benefits of being in the EU much more quickly, but also does not prevent you joining the EU at a later stage.”

The paper also suggests pursuing the route of Efta and EEA membership would “strengthen Scotland’s hand” in any trade negotiations with the rest of the UK (rUK) after independence.

This would include benefitting from a “ready-made” free-trade agreement with England and Wales as an Efta member.

READ MORE: Our best future is as indy nation in the EU, not Efta

“Even in a situation where Scotland is unable to tag along with the existing EFTA/UK trade agreement, its negotiating position in relation to a trade agreement with rUK is much strengthened as an Efta member in comparison with its position as a would-be EU applicant nation,” it added.

Last year, SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn and Europe spokesperson Alyn Smith launched a leaflet outlining the argument for why Scotland’s future is better in the EU than in Efta.

Writing in The National, Smith said:  “Scotland wants to be part of the EU, not Efta.

“If we only offer Efta membership and maybe EU membership down the line, we will lose. Moreover, we will squander what goodwill we have in Brussels by not being seen as serious or credible and instead being a smaller Britain – standoffish, reluctant to be involved in the European project, and only seen as a burden as try to work out what we want.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “As outlined in the seventh Building A New Scotland paper, the prospect of an independent Scotland joining the EU would offer significant advantages. This would include access being in both the single market and customs union, facilitating tariff-free trade and ensuring Scottish interests are represented within the EU.

“Conversely, Efta membership does not provide automatic access to the EU market. Opting for Efta/EEA membership would mean accepting EU laws without direct representation, and result in a customs border with the EU.

“Taking all these factors into account, the Building A New Scotland paper, An Independent Scotland In The EU explains that EU membership would align best with an independent Scotland's interests and preferences.”